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Book List 2012
|001||A Great and Terrible Beauty (2003)
Oh Libba Bray! How did you know that all I really wanted was a YA novel about young Victorian ladies having supernaturally-themed and vaguely sapphic boarding school adventures? I still don't know why first person narration is the big thing with YA novels these days, and some of the Realms mythology lost my interest near the end, but I'm just so delighted by how lovely and lady-centric this book was. Also Felicity was my favourite, obviously.
|Libba Bray||Jan. 07|
|002||Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) (2011)
I love this woman and everything she chooses to be.
|Mindy Kaling||Jan. 10|
|003||Rebel Angels (2005)
I'm still not terribly into the Realms mythology in these books, and the book's major twist was telegraphed from a million miles away, but I did appreciate the deepening bond between the girls and the increased layering of their characters. Gemma, especially, became a much more well-wrought protagonist in this outing.
|Libba Bray||Jan. 22|
|004||Water for Elephants (2006)
I actually started this book way back in October. But then I got pneumonia. I've been kind of plugging away at it ever since. The start-and-stop nature of my reading experience means I wasn't as invested in the story as I probably would have liked to have been. It didn't help that I found a lot of the characterization to be uninspired and would have preferred more grit and less romantic melodrama. Still, I did enjoy Gruen's prose and there were enough interesting aspects to the 1930s-era circus setting to keep me engaged.
|Sara Gruen||Jan. 26|
|005||The Sweet Far Thing (2007)
My opinions on this trilogy didn't really change with the final installment: I still infinitely preferred the relationship between the girls over everything related to the series' main mythology, so as this book dealt considerably more with wrapping up the mythology plot than on the developing relationships between the characters it wasn't my favourite. I still liked how lady-centric this series was, especially within the YA fiction genre. There were aspects to the books' feminist-lite rhetoric that felt entirely too artificially modern for the period being portrayed, but I have to show some appreciation for a series that was focused a great deal on the lives and relationships of young women, rather than on a solely romantic plot.
|Libba Bray||Feb. 15|
|006||I've Got Your Number (2012)
I've decided that I'm going to stop being ashamed to admit that I love Sophie Kinsella novels. They're fun, OK. This effort was typical of Kinsella's previous work in terms of her standard blend of wit, charm, and romance. Poppy was a delightful heroine and I loved the development of her weird little relationship with Sam. It was kind of refreshing to have a story where both characters involved in the story's main romance experienced some character growth. It's definitely one of my favourites of her stand alone novels (she should always write stand alone novels, what is a shopaholic).
|Sophie Kinsella||Feb. 16|
The fifth and final installment of the Parasol Protectorate series was a fun outing, though the luster has worn off a bit. I still quite enjoyed this series as a whole, but I don't think the last few books were nearly as engaging as the first.
|Gail Carriger||May 23|
A stunning and utterly compelling work of historical fiction. The prose is rich without being tinged with that nasty purple stuff; the details are so vivid I sometimes had to pause my reading to just let them soak in like a huge literary dork. Mary Saunders, the novel's protagonist, is vain, selfish, manipulative, sharp-tongued, and even cruel - and often unapolegetically so. She is also beautifully rendered and fascinating to follow, as Donoghue manages to vacillate between compelling the reader to recoil at Mary's actions and sympathizing with her.
|Emma Donoghue||Jun. 11|
An engrossing read that is both harrowing and poignant. I continue to be stunned by Donoghue's prose, and the way she was able to capture the particular voice of a child, including all of their quirks and ways of understanding the world, was astounding.
|Emma Donoghue||Jun. 21|
Cashore's prose isn't anything anything to write home about (in fact, it can be awkward at times), but I really loved the majority of her narrative choices. I was very much a fan of the way she explored physicality and bodily autonomy in particular, especially the way those themes related to the main relationship. I was super into how Katsa and Po navigated issues of trust and physical power. How they had a fierce, visceral connection to each other while at the same time respecting each other's agency and maintaining their heroic priorities. I just love teenage heroes and teenage romance done right.
|Kristin Cashore||Jul. 20|
Film List 2012
* In Theatres
** Preview Screening
+ TIFF in the Park screening
Exactly what you would expect from a Judd Apatow production. I probably would have enjoyed this film more if I had seen it when it was originally released, before I had seen many films with the same sensibilities (and back when Jonah Hill and Michael Cera's respective shticks were still fresh). Still, it's one of the better films produced under the Apatow banner.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)*
A really visually appealing film with a good sense of adventure (I'm relieved to see that motion capture animation has progressed to a point where it no longer creeps me out). It did start to drag a bit for me at the end as I felt it was getting long, but overall it was a fun romp. And the dog! I would watch an entire movie about that dog!
The Descendants (2011)*
I wish the movie hadn't begun with that monologue about misconceptions about Hawaii, because it set me up to want the movie to have a different thesis from the one it presented. The juxtaposition between, say, the poverty experienced by some of the state's residents versus its image as a luxurious paradise would have made an interesting film, but this film's statement was that... Hawaiian people are also messed up and sad. Which... is fine, but really the setting aside this is another domestic drama featuring privileged white people. It was a well-crafted film, and not wholly unenjoyable (it's unsurprising given Payne's previous work that the film's strongest moments are the darkly comedic ones), but I wasn't engaged. If you're going to tackle that kind of narrative (basically making a film that is the embodiment of the #firstworldproblems hashtag) I feel like you're obligated to at least make something new and transcendent. I don't think I'm going to remember much about this movie in a few weeks, is what I'm saying.
The Artist (2011)*
As an homage to the film I'm going to say very little, except that it managed to avoid feeling cloying or gimmicky and featured two charming and heartfelt performances by the leads, resulting in a delightful viewing experience. A truly lovely film. Also I am now infatuated with Jean Dujardin and his independent eyebrows.
Oh wow. Busting out the italics folks! This movie is a visceral punch to the gut. And the face. And the heart. And probably the legs too. Most impressively, its impact is achieved through a very subtle and deft directorial touch (all the directorial choices are so precise it's marvelous). Michael Fassbender gives an astonishing, fearless performance. Like, I am not even a Fassbender stan and I thought he quietly acted the hell out of this movie. The film has obviously gotten a lot of notice because of the nature of the content; what I was most impressed by was the way in which the film made it very clear that Brandon's addiction is anything but titillating. It's fucking tragic. The story told here is stunningly, and often painfully, real.
Shakespeare adaptations are a tricky business. For me, adaptations that alter a play's original setting only work if the new milieu compliments the content of the play. I don't like "just because" changes. Thankfully, this adaptation of the Bard's lesser-known play about a Roman general is a case of the former. There is an interesting and organic dialogue that occurs between the content of the original story and the modern elements of the film. The political elements of the play, particularly the issues of popular rule and the influence of mob mentality - translate to the modern setting quite well, and the modern issues touched on in the film (the prevalence of mass media, the visuals associated with modern guerilla street warfare) compliment the source text. All of the performers acquit themselves well, especially Lynn Redgrave as the title character's mother Volumnia. Ralph Fiennes' lead performance occasionally strays on the side of over-the-top, but it might be a case of his more theatrical interpretation (complete with Shakespearean spittle) contrasting with the more cinematic performances of his colleagues.
Attack the Block (2011)
A film that cleverly combines intense, well-choreographed action (with genuinely scary monsters), horror-comedy, and on-point social commentary featuring a group of unlikely, and seemingly unlikable initially, big damn heroes. This film pulses with energy and darkly comic fun, and Moses is one of the most interesting, complex protagonists introduced in recent years. The ending will make you want to cheer.
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011)
The film has a clever concept - watching Morgan Spurlock trying to get companies to finance the film as a means of exploring product placement in the media - and it was entertaining and funny as all Spurlock productions are, but I don't feel like this documentary was executed to its full potential. This film just didn't seem to have as much content or as much to say as some of his previous efforts.
Food Inc. (2008)
A populist and unflinching film that, while a bit dry at times in terms of its presentation, nevertheless offers a disturbing glimpse into the nature of the food industry. Also, while this movie is certainly eye-opening and important I wish it had maybe done more to offer viable (i.e. cost-effective, accessible, and sustainable) alternatives to big business food production.
A Separation (2011)*
This film managed to be both understated and intense, a combination that is rare in films these days but is very much appreciated by me. It does wonderfully minimalist things in terms of of using oppressive silences and minute differences in expression to create dramatic tension. It's also a domestic drama that makes you invested in the story without resorting to cheap, overwrought emotion like a lot of Hollywood films. It's complex, rich, and so deeply intimate that it makes you forget you're watching a movie.
In Time (2011)
I have a complaint to make against sci-fi films like this one and last year's The Adjustment Bureau that start off with at least semi-interesting concepts but fail to follow through with them in any meaningful or in-depth way. It's like they're afraid to really embrace the sci-fi mantel, so they neglect the world building aspects of the story. Also this movie was pretty dumb. The production values are fine, but the fact that I spent most of its running time keeping track of the number of inane references to time in the dialogue and being annoyed that Amanda Seyfried's character was constantly sprinting in outrageous heels should tell you all you need to know about the quality of the script.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)*
Just as I had heard, Tilda Swinton gives an absolutely riveting performance that was beautifully restrained and nuanced; now that I've seen her performance I can be properly pressed about her lack of Oscar nomination. There were some choices in terms of music and the composition of shots that for me strayed on the side of on-the-nose, pretentious "artsy" filmmaking, but mainly I thought it was a disturbing and all too plausible look at the question of nature vs. nurture.
Morning Glory (2010)
I blame my response to this movie completely on my regular viewership of NBC Thursday comedies. Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams' characters had that sort of Jack/Liz (30 Rock) and Ron/Leslie (Parks and Recreation) vibe going on, which gave me a lot of unexpected (and frankly, probably unearned) feelings. Otherwise this was a fairly mediocre, though mildly enjoyable, comedy-drama.
This movie wasn't as clever and fresh as I was hoping from this team, as I didn't feel like the film played with the genre as much as Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's previous collaborations (though I suppose the absence of Edgar Wright might account for that). But it was still a fun romp.
Black Death (2010)
Three quarters of this film were very well done. Films Set in the Middle Ages is a fairly dire category of films, much to my chagrin, but this movie managed to avoid a lot of the problems (rampant silliness, sanitizing the period, rigid absolute morality) that tend to plague a lot of similar films (pun absolutely intended). But the film went off the rails at the end with a completely unnecessary coda; I would have infinitely preferred if it had ended with a much less obvious and tonally dissonant conclusion. I should also note that this movie made me incredibly excited to see Carice Van Houten as Melisandre in season 2 of Game of Thrones.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
My viewing experience entailed probably some of the worst anxiety I've ever felt while watching a film. I think that served the narrative incredibly well, and not just on a level of base thrills. This movie is more about capturing an experience, or series of experiences that form a way of life, instead of presenting some kind of linear story with very clear narrative progress from point A to point B. This is a film about day-to-day life in a war zone and I think it depicted that superbly through its use of tension and suspense (the acting, direction, editing, and music were all wonderful and affecting in that regard). It was also refreshing to see a war narrative that didn't seem to have a particular agenda or message.
The Hunger Games (2012)*
It's not a flaw-free film, but The Hunger Games manages to be both a solid, faithful adaptation and an entertaining film that works separately from the source material. Jennifer Lawrence was is fabulous in the lead role, and the filmmakers made excellent choices with regards to what to leave out and what to add in. Expanded review here.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
The fourth installment in this series takes some of the weakest elements of the original trilogy - mainly the tendency to be nonsensical, overblown, and overly long - and ramps it up several notches. This movie isn't so much a narrative as a series of action sequences strung together in a tedious, loosely-related fashion. Character motivations are practically non-existent and the movie never gives you a reason to care about anything that's happening on screen.
Green Lantern (2011)
Managed to exceed even my incredibly low expectations in terms of sheer stupidity. A total mess and an eyesore to boot. It managed to scrape by with a half star because I still find Ryan Reynolds charming and attractive when he isn't a green CGI monster.
American Reunion (2012)**
The final film in the American Pie series feels a lot like the titular high school reunion: occasionally nostalgia-fueled fun but mostly just awkward and embarrassing. It's sort of sadly ironic that the film deals with the difficulty of recapturing the glory days of youth considering the state of most of these people's movie careers, which probably led most of them to agree to appear in this mostly pointless exercise in the first place (who knew that MILF Guy #2 would have the most flourishing film career?). Was anyone really dying to see what these characters were up to?
Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Source Code (2011)
A slick and sufficiently entertaining film; not quite as clever as it thinks it is, but it's still smarter and better produced than a lot of action fare out there.
The Eagle (2011)
A predictable and slow-moving film featuring a lead performance from Channing Tatum that is just about the caliber you can expect from him in a drama film. The cinematography, however, is spectacular.
The Five-Year Engagement (2012)**
A romantic comedy that manages to frankly deal with real grown-up relationship issues amidst all of the typical Judd Apatow comedy machine stuff. The film suffers from some pacing issues, including a plodding middle section, and could have used a tighter script, but the performances of the charming cast in both the comedic and heartfelt moments makes the film still worth watching.
Horrible Bosses (2011)
I had mixed feelings about this film. On the one hand, the ensemble was great and some of the black comedy stuff worked really well (though with that dark premise they probably could have pushed things a bit more). On the other hand, there was a lot of -ist bullshit that was detrimental to my enjoyment.
The Avengers (2012)*
The beginning is slow and the plot is fairly nonsensical, but this movie is a hell of a lot of fun. Whedon did a great job at balancing the large cast of characters and squeezing in some excellent characterization in the middle of all the action. Expanded review here.
Yes, I finally got around to watching this sci-fi classic. And unlike the last time I watched a seminal film in the genre (the terribly dull Blade Runner), I can actually see why this one's considered such a classic. It's slow by the standards of today's films, but that's probably because filmmakers used to care about things like crafting an intelligent plot and compelling characters.
Dark Shadows (2012)*
This film is a mess, and it's not even a hot mess. I was hoping for at least some fun camp, but I didn't even get that. It's plodding, random, and misogynistic to boot. I would imagine that actors and directors like to work together repeatedly because it energizes them and fuels their creativity, but that clearly didn't happen here. It was a lackluster affair that the cast seemed barely interested in (Eva Green tries her hardest but her character is so offensively one-dimensional that she doesn't have much to work with).
A slight but cute film. It's a rather shallow treatment of the era and of the subject matter, but it's still nice to see women's history being portrayed even if it's a fluffy treatment, and the cast is endearing enough to sell the material.
Men in Black 3 (2012)*
Surprisingly enjoyable for an installment in a fifteen-year-old and, let's face it, pretty irrelevant franchise.
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)*
A visually stunning film that had a lot of potential in terms of thematic elements, but is ultimately bogged down by a pretty terrible script. I guess I'm still waiting for my perfect fairy tale re-imagining. Expanded review here
It wasn't as effortlessly magical as previous Pixar films, and I didn't quite love it as much as I was hoping to. I understand the criticisms that the storyline was not unique. However, it was gorgeous and I loved the themes it presented. The narrative choices were excellent with regards to the women and girls in the story. Expanded review here.
Mark Andrews et al
My Man Godfrey (1936)+
A supremely charming romp. I could have easily been irritated by the main character, but Carole Lombard had oodles of charisma so she really sold the part. The chemistry between the leads was excellent. It's no wonder this is considered a classic of the screwball genre.
Gregory La Cava
The Palm Beach Story (1942)+
Not my favourite screwball comedy, but I did enjoy the leads together and I always love a good story of two people falling in love after they're already together.
Raising Arizona (1987)+
What an eccentric, wild ride this movie was. It still feels exuberantly original, even though the movie is over twenty-five years old.
Joel and Ethan Coen
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)*
A hidden gem of a movie. What starts out as a clever concept film quickly develops into a wholly charming and moving character-driven piece. The ending is both philosophically ambiguous and at the same time made me want to seal clap in the middle of the theatre.